December 17, 2013 -- This middle movie in a bloated movie trilogy based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien has a lot more action than the first film, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” This is the better film, but it is still too long in a series of films that ought to have been fewer and shorter.
This business of splitting a single book into several movies is all about the money. The book-to-movie splits in the last two Harry Potter movies and the last two Twilight movies showed the industry that dividing popular books has the effect of multiplying profits. I'm afraid this is a trend that is here to stay.
This film starts out just before the main time line of the first film with a flashback to when the wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen reprising his role) starts the ball rolling on the quest to destroy a dragon and restore the dwarf kingdom of Erebor (the kingdom under the mountain). This reveals his true motive for the quest: To stop the dark forces from recruiting the dragon Smaug to their side in the war to come. Then the story picks up where it left off in the first film.
The company of 13 dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (played by Richard Armitage, reprising his role from the first film) and joined by the Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, reprising his role) enters the Mirkwood Forest where it is attacked by monstrous spiders.
The company is rescued from the spiders by a company of elves, led by Legolas (Orlando Bloom of the “Lord of the Rings” movies). The company, except for Gandalf, who is gone on another quest, and Bilbo, who uses his magic ring to remain invisible, is then captured and held prisoner by the elves on orders from the elvish king Thranduil (Lee Pace, reprising his role). A new character, the she-elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly of the “Lost” TV series) appears in this part of the film, along with a shape-shifter named Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt of “In a Better World”).
Bilbo manages to steal the keys to the prison and frees the dwarves, but one of them, Kili (Aidan Turner, reprising his role) is wounded by an arrow that poisons him. Their escape is complicated by the fact that a band of Orcs attacks them at the same time the elves are pursuing them. In a complicated, fast-moving, waterfall and rapids sequence the dwarves, floating in barrels, have a running fight with elves and orcs. This film is misnamed. “The Desolation of Smaug” happens in the next film. This one leaves off just before the desolation starts.
Several new developments happen in this film. A romance between the dwarf, Kili, and the elf, Tauriel. The elf king Thranduil turns out not to be nice guy. A great evil is revealed to Gandalf at Dol Guldur after he and Radergast (Slyvester McCoy reprising his role) travel to the tomb of the Ring Wraiths. The dragon, Smaug, is awakened and gets ready to attack. This is all part of a multiple cliffhanger ending. Two down. One to go. This film rates a B.
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